Everyone knows that Antarctica is a harsh and cold environment, if the huge glaciers and icebergs are any indication, but researchers have found that the icy peninsula is rapidly becoming home to plant life due to climate change.
In a study titled "Plants and soil microbes respond to recent warming on the Antarctic Peninsula" published in the journal Current Biology, researchers found that there has been a sharp increase in plant activity in Antarctica in the past 50 years.
The research also suggests that Antarctica could be a green peninsula in the future if climate change continues.
The Greening Antarctic Peninsula
The study is the result of combined efforts of researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Exeter, and the British Antarctic Survey who were focused on studying Antarctica's past climate using moss banks instead of ice cores.
According to the research team, three out of five moss bank cores they tested showed major biological changes in the last half century. That is, from the original moss growth of 1 millimeter per year, the three moss banks showed evidence of a 4-millimeter growth annually.
The research team analyzed data and records from the past 150 years and noted the points in time when plant life experienced sudden growth spurts and that they coincided with a rise in the region's temperature.
"Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human induced climate change," Dr. Matt Amesbury from the University of Exeter said.
University of Exeter's project lead, Professor Dan Charman, expressed that the continued rise in temperature suggests a rapid alteration in Antarctica's ecosystem in the future.
"Although there was variability within our data, the consistency of what we found across different sites was striking," Prof. Charman said.
Studying The Past To Predict The Future
Such a finding would be a happy discovery on any other island, but in Antarctica, it would mean that the ice is in danger of melting or breaking away — a very chilling effect of climate change. What makes it more alarming is that the melted ice could release greenhouse gases that have been frozen and buried in the ice.
To determine how the moss responds to temperature changes, the research team will begin studying older moss banks to map out the climate in Antarctica for the past 5,000 years. This will be done to figure out how the changes in temperature, as well as the added effects of climate change due to human activity, affect moss growth in the long term.
"What we're going to be doing next is trying to understand more about the relationships between the proxies that we measured in the mosses, how they've changed over longer time scales, before the advent of the human influence on climate," Dr. Amesbury revealed.